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Despite Loveless Love Story, ‘Thor’ Deserves Your Popcorn-Flick Dollar

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Average: 3.1 (7 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – When big-budget films set their sights on being the next Hollywood blockbuster, they’re almost always built on a formulaic groundwork of proven ingredients. While these films often lose points for much of the same and little of the new, plunking a mighty $150 million into the production “Thor” has found a way to be both formulaic and successful.

“Thor,” which needed a hulking sexpot as its title character, found its quintessential leading man in Chris Hemsworth. Though before “Thor” he wasn’t a Hollywood sensation (you might have only previously glimpsed him in 2009’s “Star Trek”), he will be now.

Chris Hemsworth in Thor
Chris Hemsworth in “Thor”.
Image credit: Mark Fellman, Marvel Studios

Most notably in “Thor,” Hemsworth’s “accidental” but entirely on purpose shirtless scene even trumps Taylor Lautner’s memorable chisled-ab scene in “Twilight”. This Hemsworth scene literally causes a roomful of movie watchers – male, female, gay and straight – to gasp for air. Hemsworth’s personal trainer was worth every pricey penny.

But more than just brawn, he’s got the face every parent hopes on their son, the baby-blue eyes you wish your contacts could create and even the accent that melts gelato in a freezer. And he can act a couple notches better than most of the “Jerseylicious” crew. It’s no surprise that Hemsworth has already been cast as Thor in 2012’s “The Avengers,” which is filming now from writer and director Joss Whedon.

While supporter Stellan Skarsgård oddly plays a father-like figure to Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” fame is this film’s surprise supporting gem. Her character is interesting, deadpan, sarcastic and eccentric. And that’s a character we’ve seen nailed before by Portman in films like “Garden State”. As Hemsworth’s co-lead, though, Portman is a blockbuster disappointment. After last year’s Oscar-winning “Black Swan,” we know Portman can draw chart-busting star power.

Chris Hemsworth in Thor
Chris Hemsworth in “Thor”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures, Marvel Studios

But in this Marvel Comics adaptation, “Thor” shackles an “A”-list star with the “C”-list role of a boring and predictable science geek. Portman even plays out a desperate, puppy-love fantasy with Hemsworth in a role that’s as authentic as an attempt by McDonald’s at Italian fare. The love story between Hemsworth’s Thor and Portman’s plain Jane Foster is prude, passionless and impossible to believe.

“Thor” screenwriters Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne should have gone back to their character drawing board by removing the worthy Kat Dennings role of Darcy Lewis and merging Darcy into Portman’s Foster. Then you’d have a leading female who’s the obsessed, artistic and deadpan science geek but she’s also funny, harder for Thor to score and easier to love.

While Thor’s gaggle of cronies fit the bill up in the god realm of Asgard, down on Earth their renaissance fair-like garb is awkwardly as out of place as a Metallica duet with Justin Bieber. But the film refreshingly mocks it.

Chris Hemsworth (left) and Natalie Portman in Thor
Chris Hemsworth (left) and Natalie Portman in “Thor”.
Image credit: Zade Rosenthal, Marvel Studios

While Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne is best known for working on period pieces such as “Hamlet,” “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” her switch to superhero wardrobing fails to blend subtly. Instead, the overpronounced costuming in “Thor” looks like Cheez Wiz at a five-star restaurant. That said, Byrne has already been called back with Hemsworth for “The Avengers”.

Now Anthony Hopkins as Odin – a major god in Norse mythology, the ruler of Asgard and Thor’s father – is perfect casting. In folklore, Odin has been associated with wisdom, war, battle, death, magic, poetry, prophecy, victory and the hunt. Hopkins’ personification of Odin is a believable incarnation of many of these distinguishing characteristics. He’s especially successful as a wise, Yoda-like character who’s omnipotent, patient and all-knowing.

And Tom Hiddleston as the complicated, two-faced Loki successfully embodies Thor’s jealous and quietly conniving brother who’s slowly scheming against him. Just as in Norse mythology Loki periodically assists the gods while tending to cause problems for them, Hiddleston’s Loki gives the film a complex vigilante plot. While the botched “love story” in “Thor” is as predictable as Aunt Flo’s visit every month, Hiddleston in this Machiavellian role effectively keeps you only hypothesizing what he’ll do next.

Anthony Hopkins in Thor
Anthony Hopkins in “Thor”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures, Marvel Studios

The film’s direction comes from a man you’d more often know as an Oscar-nominated actor rather than a writer and director. Kenneth Branagh, who starred in 1994’s “Frankenstein” and 1996’s “Hamlet,” also directed those films.

While it’s been a while since he’s sat in the director’s chair of a major feature film and he’s not known as a filmmaker in the superhero world, the marriage of a Shakespearean actor and director with three television writers pays off. Though the film is light on humor (with, of course, a cameo by former Marvel Comics president and Thor co-creator Stan Lee), Branagh noticeably brings a healthy dose of subterfuge of irony.

Timed perfectly at 114 minutes and paced appropriately throughout, “Thor” is above-average eye candy that takes just the right advantage of well-staged, CGI-based action sequences. And like most Marvel films, “Thor” can be forgiven for its quick-wrapping final act that leaves things open for follow up if the project deems itself financially fruitful.

Natalie Portman (left) and Kat Dennings in Thor
Natalie Portman (left) and Kat Dennings in “Thor”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures, Marvel Studios

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And so far, capturing $25.7 million on its opening day domestically (and another $133 million internationally) has captured the third-highest first-day gross for the beginning of a Marvel franchise (behind “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man”).

While initially it might feel nonsensical for a superhero to derive supreme power from a hammer forged out of a dying star, the way “Thor” wields its supremacy makes mince meat out of humdrum guns, knives and swords. Not only will kids want Thor’s hammer for their personal playtime, but so will their parents enjoy watching Thor hulksmash frost giants and fire-eyed fiends. Just make sure to stay after the credits to learn about a certain Marvel doctor.

“Thor” stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Ray Stevenson, Colm Feore, Idris Elba, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander and Adriana Barraza from director Kenneth Branagh and writers Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne. “Thor” is rated “PG-13” for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence. “Thor,” which has a running time of 114 minutes, opened everywhere on May 6, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

jamaicawillson's picture

Nice Review

I had been discussing these issues with my older sister the other day. Now I will have more arguments for her. Thanks!

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